The dispersal of modern humans across the globe began ∼65,000 y ago when people first left Africa and culminated with the settlement of East Polynesia, which occurred in the last 1,000 y. With the arrival of Polynesian canoes only 750 y ago, Aotearoa/New Zealand became the last major landmass to be permanently settled by humans. We present here complete mitochondrial genome sequences of the likely founding population of Aotearoa/New Zealand recovered from the archaeological site of Wairau Bar. These data represent complete mitochondrial genome sequences from ancient Polynesian voyagers and provide insights into the genetic diversity of human populations in the Pacific at the time of the settlement of East Polynesia.
A recent reevaluation of the dates for the colonization of East Polynesia suggests that, contrary to earlier studies positing a relatively long (2,000 y) chronology for the region, the settlement of most of East Polynesia occurred rapidly, in the period from A.D. ∼1190–1290 (22). The authors determined that the expansion event occurred from the Society Islands, which were only settled 70–265 y previously. This rapid and recent expansion event, they argue, explains the “remarkable uniformity of East Polynesian culture, human biology and language” (22).
Wilmshurst JM, Hunt TL, Lipo CP, Anderson AJ (2011) High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108(5):1815–1820.